Inland Revenue Bill passed with highest number of amendments | Sunday Observer

Inland Revenue Bill passed with highest number of amendments

The controversial Inland Revenue (Amendment) Bill which had become a hot topic in and outside Parliament over the past couple of weeks was passed with a majority of 65 votes on Thursday (September 7) with over 100 Amendments. The Bill would go down in the annals of Parliament history as a piece of legislation which was passed with the highest number amendments. Following a division called by the Opposition, 90 MPs voted in favour, 25 against while 109 MPs were absent at the time of the Third Reading voting that was taken using the newly installed electronic voting system.

The UNP and SLFP members in the Government ranks voted for the Bill while the Joint Opposition (JO) and the JVP members voted against it. The TNA MPs were not in the Chamber when the Third Reading vote was taken. As a notable feature, the Joint Opposition came up with 31 amendments while the JVP proposed 70 amendments. However, some of the amendments proposed by the JVP and the JO were rejected by the Government, but some amendments proposed by the Opposition were included. In addition, all the clauses inconsistent with the Constitution were revised as per the Supreme Court ruling. It took about two hours for Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera to read out the amendments to the Bill, at the Third Reading.

Raising state revenue

Moving the new Bill, Minister Samaraweera told the House the estimated additional revenue to be collected through the Bill is Rs.45 billion. The Minister said, the new provision would come into effect in two phases which would introduce a new income tax structure with the aim of raising state revenue, by closing loopholes in the current revenue collection procedure. Minister Samaraweera said, the Government intends to introduce a ‘universal tax file number’ to every citizen over 18 years. However, the Minister said it doesn’t mean that every citizen over 18 years has to pay income tax.

JVP Parliamentarian Sunil Handunneththi who joined the debate said the Inland Revenue Bill has been designed to collect tax from each and every citizen in the country. Handunneththi attempted to portray the Bill as harmful to the people and as such the Government should include the amendments submitted by the Opposition to mitigate its adverse impact. The MP said, the Bill has proposed to collect tax from areas which had not been taxed before. Handunneththi was of the view that the Bill had been drafted by the IMF and subsequently translated into Sinhala.

Winding up the debate, State Minister of Finance, Eran Wickramaratne pointed out that the new legislation had restricted the space for Ministers to meddle in tax matters. Categorically denying speculations, he assured that no additional tax would be levied from places of worship and said the tax exemptions granted to them would remain unchanged. He implied that the upcoming Budget would announce more tax concessions for the SME and other needy sectors.

Yet another highlight of the House was that many Parliamentarians on Friday (September 8) requested the Speaker to take measures to divulge the names of Parliamentarians who have declared their assets and liabilities to the media. They made this request following the statement made in the House that a section of the print media had carried a misleading news item on the number of members who had declared their assets and liabilities. The Speaker drew attention to the fact that the same misleading news item had stated that 219 members had not declared their assets and liabilities for the year 2017. Denying the media speculation, the Speaker told the House that a considerable number of Government and Opposition Parliamentarians have declared their assets and liabilities. The Speaker said, first he would take the list of Ministers who declared their assets and liabilities to the Presidential Secretariat, as Ministers should make their declaration to the President.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who also aired his views on the matter said there are some elements who act as agents of foreign companies. The Premier said, everyone should realize that it is unethical to use their media strength to advance hidden business agendas. The Chief Opposition Whip . Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Mahinda Amaraweera requested the Speaker to take a list from the Presidential Secretariat and divulge it to the media.

Sil Redi

Participating in the debate on the Inland Revenue Bill, JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Rathnayake told Parliament that the Colombo High Court verdict on the ‘Sil redi’ distribution case was a historic one and that it was a wake-up call to public officials who misappropriate public funds and act as political henchmen. The MP said Lalith Weeratunge goes to jail as former Secretary to the President who tarnished his image. The court ruling will send a strong signal to Government officials and politicians who cheat taxpayers’ money. The MP pointed out that it is wrong to build up baseless arguments that such punishments could have an unfavourable effect on public officials. Rathnayake said, the majority of public officials are clean and only less than 10 percent are corrupt. The MP asked for whose election campaign were the Sil redi distributed, and added that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa easily got away with the charges because of the constitutional immunity that he enjoyed.

Joint Opposition Leader Dinesh Gunawardena demanded to know whether the statement made by Minister of Regional Development Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka with regard to the allegations of war crimes levelled against former Army Commander (Rtd) General Jagath Jayasuriya represented the official version of the government. Leader of the House and Higher Education and Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella told the House that Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana will respond to MP Gunawardena’s statement in two weeks. Minister Kiriella added that the statements made by Minister Fonseka are his personal opinions and not the views of the Government. The Minister said the Government would not jail any former Army Commander unlike its predecessor which imprisoned Sarath Fonseka. Minister Kiriella told MP Gunawardena that the incumbent Government will not incarcerate former Army Commanders and said it was the former regime which did so. He asked MP Gunawardena “don’t you remember the way you dragged General Fonseka to jail and how he languished behind bars.”

MP Gunawardena said, the LTTE sympathisers have initiated legal proceedings against the former Army Commander in a Brazilian court on allegations of war crimes and this is a serious issue. He said, the nation cannot wait two weeks and asked why the Minister can’t provide an answer this week? This is a national issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, the MP pointed out. UPFA Colombo District MP Wimal Weerawansa said it is not a small matter for a Minister to claim that a former Army Commander had committed war crimes. Minister Kiriella told the House the Government will not allow any foreign organization to penalise members of our armed forces and added that those in the Opposition are now making a big hue and cry but they are responsible for imprisoning Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who is a war hero.